Obama's BP Speech: Is the Gulf Half-Empty or Half-full?
Nearly sixty days after an explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed eleven workers, injured seventeen others and created an oil gusher that has been spewing black clouds of oil ever since, President Obama delivered an Oval Office address with the hope of stemming the flow of anger among Americans.
President Obama explained that this is "already the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced." Seemingly forgetting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he added, "Unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it is not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years."
The term continued to be "spill" despite the fact that it should now be accurately referred to as a "leak." It isn't a spill; if a coffee cup falls over and coffee spills, it doesn't continue to produce coffee for hours and hours after it spills. If a coffee cup could do that, there'd be no reason for people to buy over-priced cups of coffee from Starbucks.
And, actually, "leak" is too timid. This is not a "leak" or "spill." This is a "gusher." It's a hemorrhage. The planet is hemorrhaging and those at the top who are running the cleanup effort have no idea how to make the planet clot so the hemorrhaging will stop.
President Obama essentially broke the address up into three parts: the cleanup effort, the recovery and restoration of the Coast, and steps being taken to make sure another disaster like this never happens again.
Outlined by President Obama was the fact that "millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming, and other collection methods" and that "over five and a half million feet of boom has been laid across the water to block and absorb the approaching oil. " Obama also explained that the federal government has "approved the construction of new barrier islands in Louisiana to try and stop the oil before it reaches the shore" and is also "working with Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida to implement creative approaches to their unique coastlines."
President Obama claimed, "if something isn't working, we want to hear about it" and "if there are problems in the operation, we will fix them." There was no mention of the fact that fancy paper towels are being used in the cleanup effort--that cleanup technology seems to be very simple and inadequate. (Perhaps, if relief wells fail, BP and all those involved in the cleanup efforts will try to shove a ginormous tampon into the floor of the ocean to stop the flow.)
There was also no mention of the Corexit dispersant being used, which Pro Publica reports has been removed from a list of products approved for use on oil spills in the U.K and is "more toxic and less effective on south Louisiana crude than other EPA-approved dispersants."
Obama's talk of focusing on recovery and restoration becomes even more hollow when you consider further information on the use of Corexit to disperse the oil:
What's more, the EPA and the Coast Guard are allowing BP to use these dispersants underwater near the ruptured well. They've called it a "novel approach " that will ultimately use less dispersant than if the chemicals were applied on the surface. The undersea application, however, is not the recommended  application  procedure laid out in the EPA's information on Corexit.
The EPA has acknowledged that dispersants entail "an environmental trade-off ," and that their long-term effects on the environment are unknown. It has promised to continue monitoring their use, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is working with BP  to get less toxic dispersants to the site as soon as possible.
On behalf of the fisherman whose way of living have been completely under attack as a result of this disaster, Obama said, "Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."
However, this meeting is only scheduled to last 20 minutes. That is hardly enough time to properly address the situation and use the bully pulpit of the presidency to force BP to spend less time trying to save their image and more time trying to save the ecosystem in the Gulf.
If President Obama's only going to spend 20 minutes, then he should just call Tony Hayward and "ask" him his question about a third-party account and the cleanup. He should just friend BP on YouTube and then engage in a chat in the comments thread of one of BP's videos that, as Jon Stewart said last week, treats Americans like they are victims of domestic abuse.
Also, as Chris Matthews pointed out just after the address, no specifics were laid out on how this account to be "administered by an independent, third party" will be organized and properly handled:
"...[Obama] never mentioned what power he has as chief executive of this country to make [BP] understand they need to put this escrow account in third party hands. Is he gonna litigate? Is he gonna file an amicus brief with a class action suit, wait seven years for this to happen or is he really gonna demand it happens? He said, "I can ask them to do this." I'm amazed he just says he has that power..."
That President Obama thinks the American people will believe he has this situation under control when he intends to still ask BP and not make demands of them is confounding. The government should be past asking. It should be discussing accountability and consequences for the massive cover-up that has taken place in the Gulf, which has contributed to an increase in the devastation in the Gulf.
But, there was no mention of jail time for those responsible and no mention either of a more feasible option, debarment, a move that could "bar BP from receiving government contracts" and "cost the company billions and end its drilling in federally controlled oil fields."
President Obama casually explained that he was assured everything would be fine, that limited offshore drilling "would be absolutely safe" and "the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken." Who or what agency told him this and why does it seem that what they had to say was taken at face value? Given the reservations environmentalists, scientists, and engineers have had about drilling, why doesn't it seem those people were talking to the president when he made a decision to open up limited offshore drilling?
Shakeups at Mineral Management Services (MMS) were detailed as if to show that regulatory agencies will now handle and regulate corporations like BP properly. But, given the way the EPA has handled the Corexit dispersant and the reports that the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) may not be properly updating their standards on the levels of chemical exposure that cleanup workers are allowed to be exposed to, should we really believe oversight is going to hold oil corporations accountable from this point on?
If one considers Jason Leopold’s recent investigative report on BP’s Alaska oilfield and its safety and the whistleblowing on risks related to the BP Atlantis oil rig (which the Interior Department is allowing to continue operations), one must question how BP is conducting operations all over this country. One must also ask if other oil companies are getting away with safety issues as well.
Absolutely no portion of the speech addressed the reality that BP is stemming the flow of information in the Gulf and the reality that "journalists in the gulf are now dealing with a hybrid informational apparatus that does not reflect government's legally mandated bias toward openness and transparency."
If President Obama really wanted to address the way the disaster is being handled, he would have asked why BP has been permitted to invest and expend valuable time, money and resources on public relations and use the National Guard to help protect the corporation's image and increasingly bleak future instead of putting a hundred percent of BP's available manpower, equipment, and assets into cleanup operations. If he really wanted to give an address that was not simply void of specifics and instead filled with platitudes and great speechifying, President Obama would have said his administration will condemn any further attempts by BP to block scientists' access to information and take up air time disinforming and misinforming the public on the extent of the damage in the Gulf.
Keith Olbermann characterized the situation correctly, "We needed to hear the president articulating the anger of this nation at this fiasco, at this ongoing and unstoppable fiasco in the Gulf."
Something needed to be given to lift Americans' spirits, to make Americans believe that this could be the critical juncture where American government not only makes the transition to pushing for a clean, renewable energy future in this country but also a future where corporations are not just simply allowed to reign supreme and go unchecked.
In the end, all Obama could give Americans was a prayer, a short anecdote about shrimpers who are joined by community during shrimping season for a "Blessing of the Fleet" that involves clergy from many different religions praying for the safety and success of the men and women who will be going out to sea.
Obama's message at the end of his speech was not only will God "remove all obstacles and dangers" but He will "be with us always" and "even in the midst of the storm."
If this was what we Americans are to hang our hopes on, we can reasonably expect that this disaster will continue until way past Christmas. We can count on BP to still be trying to halt the flow of oil when boys and girls are looking forward to Santa Clause coming to town.
This disaster is not in need of a clergyman or a preacher. It's not in need of a benevolent, kind and understanding man. It's not in need of a collegiate and professorial person or someone who was quite the corporate candidate for president in 2008.
This disaster needs a champion of people sovereignty over corporate sovereignty. And, when Obama becomes that champion ---someone closer to the trust-busting President Teddy Roosevelt than President Grover Cleveland, who was president when the Supreme Court granted personhood to corporations.